iPad Pro Linked With April-June Release Date, A9 Chipset AND 4GB of RAM –– And Maybe A Stylus Too

News Richard Goodwin 10:49, 29 Jan 2015

As rumours about a larger iPad escalate, we take a look at what’s being said

Is Apple working on a larger iPad tablet aimed at enterprise and professional users? It seems unlikely given the iPad Air is doing just fine in those market niches, and yet this is exactly what some notable sources are claiming Apple is about to do. Reports of an even larger iPad are not new, everybody remembers the iPad Maxi; how could you forget something with a name that bad! This was in 2012. But the idea of a larger iPad came back into fashion in late-2013 after a few choice leaks from respected insiders and is now the subject of hot debate all over the web.

But if the iPad Pro is real what, exactly, does this mean for Apple’s existing iPads –– the iPad Air and iPad Mini? One could posit that, with the release of the iPhone 6 Plus and the advent of uber slim, full size iPad Airs, the iPad Mini no longer serves a purpose in Apple’s tablet arsenal. And you’d sort of have a point too. But Apple seldom does anything that could remotely be considered hasty; the company has only just started the process of discontinuing the iPod Classic.

Another interesting component to the growing iPad Pro mythology is talk of an Apple-developed stylus that will work in conjunction with the larger iPad and, no doubt, some of its bespoke applications. The stylus, however, will apparently be marketed as an “accessory” as not all iPad users will wants one. 

A report by respected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggests Apple will launch a stylus alongside a larger iPad in the second quarter of 2015, based on a number of stylus themed patents Apple has filed and his own research.

"Coupled with its unfavourable cost structure, high selling prices may turn consumers off if the 12.9-inch iPad is always bundled with [the stylus]," he wrote. "We therefore expect the stylus to be an optional accessory before sufficient user feedback is received."

Samsung is currently the only “real” player to have experimented with styli aboard its Galaxy Note range. Could Apple have spotted a use for stylus too? Perhaps a more enterprise-focussed use –– something that will feature inside its co-IBM developed business applications? Maybe. But we’re not exactly sold on the idea. A slick keyboard attachment would be A LOT more useful. 

Stylus aside, a larger iPad still begs the question why? How will an extra couple of inches make a new product stand out from, say, a standard iPad Air 2? 

Mac World sees two potential scenarios: “First, there will be an increasing split among smaller and larger iOS tablet devices. The iPad mini and the iPhone Plus will be the options for those preferring a smaller device—while the iPad Air and presumably an iPad Pro/Plus will be the choices for those who find greater value in a larger size tablet. There will be less movement back and forth, and less overlap of features, between these two categories.”

Good, solid points. But what about the rise of laptops like Google’s uber-cheap Chromebooks?

Simple, apparently: “There will be a rebalancing of the mobile computing market. Those who predicted that tablets would eradicate laptops, or that mini-sized tablets would eradicate larger ones, were hasty in their judgments. Instead, as users become more familiar with the pros and cons of each category, a significant number of tablet users are gravitating back to a laptop. Tablet sales may continue to decline for a period of time. However, once the market stabilizes, I expect tablet sales to start a slower but significant upward trajectory again.”

Multiple sources claim Apple will bring the iPad Pro to market in 2015 in order to inject some new blood into its now-sagging iPad line. Bloomberg sources now claim initial component work on is officially underway, with full-on production scheduled for Q1 2015. 

“The new iPad will have a screen measuring 12.9 inches diagonally,” the report said. “Potential customers for larger-screen iPads are businesses, where the device could take on more tasks of a traditional laptop computer.” 

Once THE dominant tablet to own, Apple’s iPad has, between 2012 and 2014, lost ground to cheaper Android-powered slates. In a similar fashion to Android’s growth in the smartphone space, Apple simply cannot compete with the sheer volume of choice and price variety offered by Google’s hardware partners. Apple’s market share dipped from 53% in to 2013 to 36% in 2014.

Below is everything currently known about the iPad Pro; the case for and against it; and some useful intelligence from the analyst community. We'll be updating this piece from time to time, so be sure to bookmark it and check back for new information. 

iPad Pro: Release Date

KGI Securities Ming-Chi Kuo reckons 2014 will not see the release of an iPad Pro device either. According to the analyst, Apple will release a modified iPad Air in 2014 and save the iPad Pro and updated iPad Mini until 2015.

Kuo – who’s been very reliable in the past – believes the new iPad Air will feature an A8 processor and Touch ID fingerprint sensor. He also believes it will be the only new tablet that Apple introduces in 2014. The reason? Simple: Apple is looking to re-focus its resources from the Retina iPad Mini towards developing the 12.9-inch iPad.

“Compared with lower-margin iPad mini with Retina display, which shipments has been tepid, higher-margin iPad Air was a hot selling item in 4Q13, which will slow Apple in developing new iPad mini models. We believe Apple plans to launch upgraded iPad Air early this year, and will accelerate development of 12.9” iPad,” said Kuo in a note to investors.

He added: “As such, more resources will be allocated to these two products, which will affect the progress of the development of new iPad mini. All told, we think chances of the debut of a new iPad mini in 2H14 are slim. In addition, the 12.9” iPad is unlikely to be offered in 2014. For these reasons, we predict the only new iPad product in 2H14 will be the upgraded iPad Air.”

Reports from Japan’s Mac Fan, you can read more about this leak in the Specs section, claims the iPad Pro –– or iPad Plus, as the article refers to it –– will launch some time between April and June, placing it firmly inside Q2. Apple has said nothing official about the project and we don’t expect this to change anytime soon. Expect A LOT more leaks in the coming weeks and months.

iPad Pro Specs

Taiwanese website TechNews.Tw claims to have obtained a load of information relating to the specs of Apple’s iPad Pro slate, which the source claims is launching in April 2015. According to the blog, the iPad Pro will feature a 12.9in display –– although the panel will have a higher resolution than the current iPad Air –– feature 2GB of RAM and run on an as-yet-unannounced A8X chipset (basically, an enhanced version of the chip found inside the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus). 

The report also claims that the Apple iPad Pro will be available in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB models, despite Apple having dropped the 32GB iPhone, reports The Register, and it apparently will feature slight design modifications, including a repositioned camera and redesigned buttons.

"A new report out of Taiwan claims Apple is planning to double the RAM for next year’s iPhones and iPads. That would mean 2GB of RAM in new smartphones and 4GB of RAM in new tablets. While Apple’s devices generally run pretty smooth more RAM could mean improved multi-tasking, especially in Safari where opening too many tabs at once often causes them to reload," says TechnoBuffalo.

Another report, this time via Mac Otakara, has shed further light on what users can expect from the iPad Pro once it lands next year. The slate will have a 12.2in display, as previously reported, as well as speakers and microphones on the top and bottom of the device for improved video and video calling. 

“Product design concept seems to be based on iPad Air 2, pair of speakers and microphones will be added on top-side not only bottom’s pair. iPad Pro might be capable for supporting stereo audio,” said the report. 

The report added the iPad Pro will be around 7mm thick, meaning it’ll be very thin but not quite as thin as the iPad Air 2. Nothing else was mentioned regarding specs, although it’s likely we’ll see yet another update to Apple’s A series chip included. 

The post says the device will be the first Apple’s 2015 gear to run on its A9 chipset and, echoing previous rumours, claims it will have four stereo speakers built into its front fascia, too, so as to ensure consistent stereo sound quality no matter how it’s being held. 

iPad Pro With Stylus?

According to the most recent reports (as of January 19 2015) Apple might once again be about to perform a u-turn on its past utterances. Steve Jobs famously said the company would never make a stylus-based device and that if it did the company had "blew it". But according to a report by AppleInsider, prominent (and often unnervingly accurate) KGI Securities analyst Ming-chi Kuo has seen enoug evidence now that he believes an iPad Pro with a stylus will appear in 2015's second quarter.

However, the report states that the stylus will likely be an optional yet still official accessory for the iPad Pro, rather than being an integral feature as with competing devices, such as Samsung's Galaxy Note hardware.

Kuo believes the first stylus Apple releases will be fairly simple, but expects Apple to update the hardware with later iterations featuring extra sensors and "3D handwriting" capabilities.

And why might Apple be making this change? "We believe that the stylus could improve the experience of users," Kuo suggests, "and will likely help Apple develop specific customer groups such as the corporate sector and educational institutions."

iPad Pro Leaks

Yet another image of what’s claimed to be a CAD image of the iPad Pro leaked online over the weekend. The image, obtained by Nowhereelse, comes via an alleged Foxconn employee and shows what’s claimed to be the corner of Apple’s upcoming, larger iPad Pro.

“The image appears to show the upper right corner of the alleged device,” reports Apple Insider, “with a new speaker grille located to the side of the lock button and above the rear camera. If legitimate, it could mean that the jumbo-sized iPad would allow users to hear stereo sound from the device regardless of whether it is used in portrait or landscape orientation.”

And then there's this spurious beauty from China's Weibo network...

"A user on China's Weibo microblogging site today posted a new photo (via Letem svetem Applem) simply labeled 'iPad Pro', reports Mac Rumors. "The photo shows what appears to be a mold for the rear shell of Apple's rumored larger tablet with a display in the range of 12-13 inches, although it is unclear whether this mold is supposed to be for."

iPad Pro vs. iPad Air: What’s The Difference? 

As is often the case with unannounced Apple products we’re still very much in the dark when it comes to specifics – things like spec, hardware and features. However multiple sources now claim the larger slate will launch in late-Q3 2014.

DisplaySearch believes the iPad Pro will likely feature a 12.9-inch display with a resolution of 2732 x 2048 and 265ppi. Commenting on the idea of a larger iPad, Evercore Partners analyst Patrick Wang said such a device would "fundamentally change" the tablet market by merging tablet capabilities with more traditional business-focused laptops.

...And THIS Is What It Could Look Like

The iPad Pro is more than a rumour now and looks to be pretty much a sure thing; we’ve seen too many leaks for it not to be. But what will the larger iPad actually look like compared to Apple’s other devices? A video by tech channel Canoopsy attempts to show just what’s possible with a large, 12.2in display, comparing it to the iPad Air, iPad Mini and iPhone 5 –– it’s even shown off next to Apple’s MacBook Air. Check out the video below: 

S’all About The 64-Bit Infrastructure

Wang believes the 64-bit infrastructure introduced in Apple's new A7 processor is a "game changer" that sets the stage for a so-called “iPad Pro”. 

“Wang noted that the processor in a MacBook Air is estimated to account for 22 percent of the notebook's bill of materials. In contrast, the processor in a 128-gigabyte iPad is estimated to represent just 4 percent of the total cost to Apple,” reports Apple Insider.

But it remains to be seen how and why an extra couple of inches turn the already popular iPad Air into a fully-fledged business machine. Surely the iPad Pro would run iOS just like the iPad Air? In this regard it’s difficult to see how a larger iPad would “fundamentally change” the tablet landscape – the Air already does most of these things.

Plus big tablet devices already exist. And last time we checked, hybrids like the Surface Pro – which is arguably a better “business” machine than the Air – aren’t doing too well in enterprise circles, even with the added benefit of a keyboard/mouse capabilities and support for legacy Windows apps.

Unless Apple adds in something “special” to the iPad Pro, other than a larger display and more RAM, it’s difficult to see what the point of such a device would be. Ramping up the display 2-and-a-bit-inches will not make the iPad Pro more of a business machine than the current Air; only software and other capabilities – things like keyboard and UX changes – can do that.  

iPad Pro: Design

What would it look like? Is it going to be just a bigger iPad Air? What type of features could Apple include to differentiate it from its existing iPad range? These are all good questions, and as is usually the case with things like this, SETT has set about designing and publishing a concept of what the iPad Pro – based on current rumours – could be like. 

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